Have you ever been struck by a mind-expanding realization that catches you so off guard, it takes your breath away?
My mom told me she once saw sunlight filtered through the translucent, veiny ear of a squirrel and suddenly understood life itself. Seems ridiculous, but these moments of deep, life-changing revelation do tend to strike when you least expect them.
I’ve had two such moments in the past couple years, both relating to parenthood.
Right after my son was born, I was driving somewhere one day (don’t most deep thoughts happen while driving or in the shower?), thinking about how his life was only just beginning as I entered my 30s. It struck me, like a punch in the gut, that nothing I had done before that point—none of my academic achievements, professional milestones, meaningful life experiences, none of it—would matter to him. As far as he was concerned, my life essentially began with his. And then I realized that the same was true for my parents. My dad was 40 years old when I was born. Forty! He had lived an entire lifetime before I was even a zygote. Sure, I know vague bits and pieces about my parents’ childhoods and first jobs, etc., but the stuff that really defines them as people in my mind is tied exclusively to my childhood and beyond.
How humbling is that: whatever you did before having kids—the people most important in your life—it is completely inconsequential to them.
(Case in point: I recently asked Theo, my now almost 4-year-old son, if he knew that I had studied engineering in college, thinking he might be impressed. Instead, he responded—quite unexpectedly, and without batting an eye—“yeah, but have you ever been to Florida?” LOL!)
The second such realization came recently. Out of the blue, my dad sent me and my sister some photos of the apartment where my parents lived in the 1970s through the early ’80s, where both my sister and I were first brought home as newborns. I don’t remember anything about this apartment; I was too young to have formed any lasting impressions of it. But what I wasn’t expecting is how familiar all the things in the apartment would be.
The utensil holder in the kitchen, which now resides in my parents’ current kitchen:
The striped hand towel in the bathroom, which, for as long as I can remember, has served as a rag at our family cabin in Indiana:
My mom’s vanity table, which has since been recovered in new fabric but still displays all her same boxes and trinkets:
Seeing these things really drove home something I hadn’t ever considered: my parents didn’t just suddenly become “adults” with an established home and fine things. They, like me, moved around in their youth, dragging along with them from apartment to apartment the hodgepodge of stuff they had collected over the years. They re-purposed some of that stuff and replaced bits and pieces as things became worn. But their possessions are a continuous thread linking their past, before I was even a glimmer in their eyes, to their present. I guess this really is nothing more than a visual reminder that my parents are the same people they were before I existed.
It makes me wonder which of my things will be familiar relics to my kids 30 years from now. Will it be the art hanging over our living room couch? The quilt on my bed? Or something even more mundane, like the bread box on our kitchen counter? Who knows what will stick. But whatever it is, I’m sure they’ll someday be shocked to realize I had a life before them. And that, yes, I have been to Florida.